Overcoming loneliness at workplace

Loneliness at Work Place

“Loneliness does not come from having no people around one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” Carl Jung

One of my clients I was coaching recently is a senior leader (COO) at one of the big consulting companies. While the topic brought up for the coaching session was something else to begin with, one key theme that kept coming up was how difficult it is to find someone to trust at the work place to be able to share and consult in an open manner.

I looked up some research and it indicates that more than 60% of people report they feel lonely at workplace. The epidemic of loneliness at workplaces is common across geographies and it gets worse as one goes up the hierarchy. And it is only growing…

The effect of long term loneliness includes increase in stress, anxiety with physical manifestations of blood pressure, obesity and its effect is found to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

Flexi working, shared workspaces and hot desks become more common do make it easier for employees by saving commute time saving costs for employers. But they also reduce the opportunities for physically being at the same place and meeting people on a regular basis – which is fundamental to building trusting relationships. The situation is further exacerbated by technology enabled collaboration tools which make it easier to ping a person on the same floor using your smartphone or laptop rather than walking up to someone’s desk to talk! Even if you are in an open office with 100+ people on the floor, it is quite unlikely that you have your teammates sitting next to or near you.

As you go higher up in hierarchies, our work cultures based on competition and comparison of performance against one’s peers naturally introduces cautiousness in our day to day dealings with peers. The need to maintain the sense of authority and objectivity reduces the possibility of finding friends from one’s team (& seniors).

And it is more worse for women, who’d like to spend every possible extra minute with their families rather than spend time at work building relationships.

So, what can one do? Some easy (!) to use strategies:

  1. Make a friend at work! If you can find someone who is not directly related to your work stream, that much better as its easier to build trust when there are no overlaps. But this does get tougher if you are a senior leader – then one way or another your works are inter-related. Choose carefully as workplaces are notoriously leaky when it comes to information flow.
  2. Continue to nurture your friendships from past – be it workplace or school or childhood. The longer the relationship, the better they sustain periods of silence and inactivity. If you are lucky to have an old friend, don’t let that relationship wither!
  3. Help form or join communities of common interests outside of your work area. If you can find one in your workplace, even better! The relationships that are based on areas other than what you are measured on at work lend themselves more easily to develop trust. The sense of companionship in such groups can be a great way to have some time in a week which is like a stress release valve!
  4. Pay it forward by being a trusted friend to someone who could use one! And, honor the code of friendship – do unto others what you want others to do unto you. You’ll find your friend too …
  5. Find a personal coach. As I have become a coach now and work with senior leaders, I realize how much I’d have liked to have one when I was working in those vast great companies – very often as the only woman at the table! One of the most common values my clients get out of the coaching relationship is the ability to discuss anything, under complete trust, with no fear of judgement or possible mis-use of information shared. They all express the relief it provides on their stressful workdays and weeks!
  6. As a senior leader, provide an environment for your team members to develop trusting friendships. Encourage and demonstrate the right kind of behaviors to enable great friendships that could stand the test of time and distance…

While loneliness at work places seems unavoidable to some extent. it can definitely be managed with thoughtful actions by each one of us.

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